Personally, I feel the topics study of economics is grossly misrepresented. When an intellectual topic becomes politicized, the objective pursuit of the truth is hindered. Often, politicization of ideas leads to polarization, and no longer is the conversation openly discussed in a critical manner that allows for the free exchange of ideas. Without the free exchange of ideas, the truth cannot be found. I find this to be true for subjects such as the environmental sciences as they relate to climate change, as well as the study of economics.
Today, to support economic ideals such as the free market, one automatically becomes affiliated with negative attributes. People often feel that those who support the concept of a free market are selfish, lacking of compassion, and are full of greed. However, I know from my personal experience that this is far from the truth. In fact, I feel that the support for such ideals can come from a place of true compassion and desire for equality amongst all people. The reason economist supports the free market, is because the study of economics highlights the natural tendency for human beings to help one another, even if unknowingly. This occurs because individual economic action, when summed up in aggregate, manifest forces within human society that push resource allocation to where they are needed. However, this is only true when economic activity is conducted peacefully. Therefore, to take the concept to its furthest conclusion, is to argue in complete favor for world peace and cooperation. In this blog post, I will try to briefly explain what I mean.
The study of economics often leads scholars into an opinion of how markets should be structured. Often, an opinion is generated on how humans should regulate the market. To me, this framework of analyzing economics is misdirected. As previously stated, the study of economics reveals how the sum of all human economic decision making creates natural forces within our society that help direct resource allocation. This idea is perhaps most famously coined by Adam Smith as the “invisible hand”. Adam Smith aimed to explain how individuals, when making seemingly selfish decisions, end up providing benefit to the greater society. I often think of this as a pure form of democratic voting: where simply by living our own lives, we are voting towards what good and services we desire to exist or not exist. Again, a major caveat here is that these selfish decisions must be peaceful in nature, they cannot involve the initiation of aggression towards someone else to achieve your selfish desire. Therefore, the only answer to the proper structure of an economy (in my opinion) is defined by the non-aggression principle (NAP). This is the idea that within a society, the only enforceable rule should be that nobody has the right to initiate aggression towards another being. No murder, rape, theft, fraudulent transactions, etc. Violence is only justifiable in the form of self-defense, when someone already has initiated violence towards you. Such a structure would allow everyone to make their own economic decisions, without the improper influence of anyone else. Everyone in the world contributes to economic decision making, therefore the market then allocates resources with everyone in mind to the best degree possible, given the scarcity of resources on the planet.
Let us assume for a moment that this was true. That the best way for society to grow its wealth, to increase the standard of living for everyone, is through the NAP. To me, this has great philosophical and ethical consequences.
Many of us are dissatisfied in the world we live in. We see poverty, hatred, oppression, war, etc. Many people desire to make a change. Yet, the question of how we can make a change is so difficult, and often generates divide amongst people. I certainly do not have a comprehensive answer to how we save the world. Though I do think that study of economics can help in a small way. Many of the world’s problems can be viewed, in part, as a consequence of the desire for wealth. If the NAP is a defining quality in a healthy economy that benefits all, then it gives us the answer of how to behave from an individual level. It informs us that one very powerful, and practical, action we can take to improve the world is act peacefully in our own lives. Additionally, it shows that violent action, even if aimed toward the greater good, will hinger our progress. Not everyone in our society will act without aggression, but the more that do, the better off our economy will be. Therefore, being a person of aggression and destruction in the names of helping the world can be viewed as counterproductive. To help the world instead, just be of non-aggressive action. You can help the world simply by being peaceful.
Again, this has great ethical consequences. Many of us ask “what is the right way to live and behave”. In many ways I detest this question, because there is no universal answer and it depends upon the individual. Sure, there may be common guideline such as: have a healthy diet, exercise well, have great relationships, etc. But so often do people try to enforce their living methods onto others. Therefore, I think a fundamental truism in ethics should be: non-ethical interaction between people is the initiation of aggression. One can think or do whatever they want in their own life, as long as they don’t use force on others.
Perhaps this is an obvious statement. Of course, we should all strive to be human beings that are peaceful. Regardless, I think the study of economics highlights something important: if you care for the poor and the disenfranchised, and if you truly want everyone on earth to have access to food, water, health care, happiness etc.; Then your first and foremost duty to help those people is to be non-aggressive and oppose aggressive forces in our society. Peace is not just and ideal, it is the driving force in human progress.